It is no secret that K-Pop has recently become a larger part of the American music scene in recent years, especially with the rise of BTS on the Billboard charts and their 2020 Grammy nomination. This development has also brought about a new YA book subgenre: K-Pop books! As a lover of both K-Pop and reading, I was a bit skeptical about all these new books. Can a book really describe the visual and auditory aesthetics of the music category? I was pleasantly surprised to find that a book really can do all that.
K-Pop Confidential by Stephan Lee focuses on 15 year-old Candace Park, a Korean-American teenager who loves music and wants to become a singer. Despite her parents dismissal at first, Candace ends up passing an audition to become a trainee at one of Korea’s biggest entertainment agencies. The book chronicles her journey to become an idol and readers will root for Candace as she follows her dreams.
This is the first book I’ve read that focused on fictional characters entering the K-Pop scene and I was somewhat surprised by how much I enjoyed it! It may be obvious that I would undoubtedly enjoy this book but I was surprised at how strong Lee’s writing was at describing the music. I found the novel really descriptive and I could really imagine Candace’s performances.
I also liked that this book had the classic bildungsroman element that I come to expect in YA. Not only does Candance travel to a different country for an adventure, she also strikes up a budding romance. I think the novel did a great job balancing this self-discovery with a very small romance plot line considering that Candace is 15. The expectation for YA novels does include a romance plot so I sincerely enjoy it when a novel is focused on the main character’s personal journey first and foremost.
In terms of the K-Pop elements, it is obvious that K-Pop Confidential includes a love for the music genre but also some critiques against it. Being a trainee is hard, and many trainees never debut because of the fierce competition. I liked that the novel didn’t sugarcoat that the industry can be cutthroat and Candace’s experience seemed genuine. I also think fans of K-Pop will definitely realize that the big company she joins is modeled after HYBE (BTS’ label company!) but I found little Easter eggs like that fun.
Despite my knowledge of the music genre, I think that this novel could also be read by people who don’t know much about K-Pop and are just looking for an entertaining coming of age story set in a unique setting. The novel does have its lecture moments about the music but that is to be expected in a novel about a somewhat niche subject.
All in all, I recommend K-Pop Confidential and I am definitely very excited for the sequel! If you’re interested in reading more about K-Pop books, I highly recommend this VPL list and if you want to listen to the music that inspired the book, check out this list!